Asylum mess

The Queen’s speech signalled a new bill that will make it much harder to gain realistic asylum in the UK while at the same time, because of inadequate international agreements, applicants could easily find that they cannot go back. They cannot go forward and cannot go back. Priti Patel has just revived the concept of Limbo that was itself jettisoned by the Catholic Church during Vatican II in 1962.

And Vatican II is an important link given that the whole Brexit enterprise might best be traced back to a coffee shop pact by the wondrous Jacob Rees-Mogg, as well as the now derailed Mark Reckless and Daniel Hannan back in 1990 in Oxford. Dear Jacob! But he, at least, is a man with imagination and humour- he might even manage some maths. None of this is in evidence when we look at the present Home Secretary.

Priti Patel joins a list of British politicians, instead, who think it is clever to promote and rely on mindless bureaucracy: it is this reliance that has seen the endless rise of the Jon Stone tag “abolish the Home office”. But if that ever happened, it would simply replace one bunch of papers with another! Simply because something is on a bit of paper, Priti Patel supposes like Theresa May, before her, that it has meaning. Ideology and prejudice comes before reason, even history and personal history as well- Her parents, for instance fled Uganda a few years’ before Idi Amin stripped Asian citizens of their rights and expelled them. Her parents, Gujarati immigrants, had seen the writing on the wall and came here where they were welcomed into Britain. We have to ask what their chances would be if they were to be faced with the same threats today, particularly if their daughter passes the legislation she intends. Sadly, as we shall discover, if this legislation goes through, people with just as good a reason to start a new life here will be denied that opportunity and we shall be denied their new vision and courage. More than that, we shall be setting an example to other countries – maybe we are doing so already if Mr Barnier’s nonsensical bid to be the next French President is given a chance.

The preamble to Patel’s draft law talks about “faster and fairer” means to process migrants, and about “better support for the vulnerable”. It also decries the deaths at sea as migrants are abused at the hands of smugglers and piled into boats ill-equipped for the voyage and the numbers -so, she promises to deal swiftly and firmly with people smugglers- all well and good. Then, it takes a sharp right turn, because it blames the migrants or refugees or asylum seekers- the nomenclature is fairly nebulous at this stage- for choosing to come to Britain by the wrong route.

This language probably calls to mind the Robert Frost poem, a much maligned piece of writing that many people believe they know and that has been bandied about by advertising execs – even to pitch Ford cars in New Zealand- as a statement of self-assertion. It is, however a deceptive piece of writing, as indeed, is this draft law by Priti Patel. “I took the one less traveled by” may be what the poet eventually says he did but if you look more closely, both roads “equally lay / In leaves”, the way was unclear and “the passing there / Had worn them really about the same.” In other words, it was not choice but chance that led the poet to take the road “less traveled by”. And that chance is tinged with some regret.

This distinction between choice and chance lies at the heart of what is wrong with Priti Patel’s legislation. A migrant fleeing a rogue state is often in no place to note where help comes and who is offering passage to a better life. We should not blame people who have already suffered for the people and route they trusted as they escaped although I concede there may still be a small number of people who have been trying to play the system.

Priti Patel, however, is turning us back into Victorian prudes who look down on the dispossesed and brand them “deserving or undeserving”. The criterion she offers for this distinction is simply the road they travelled to get here. Patel’s bill is a law drawn up in an ivory tower that ignores circumstances- that does not care whether someone was coerced into taking one route rather than another or did not have the knowledge or the paperwork to detect the difference. It also plans to penalise people with a criminal record- but one wonders which criminal record will be recognised- will someone be further punished by Britain for being wrongly accused and convicted of a potentially spurious offence in a rogue state? The language would need to be very carefully thrashed out. At the moment, I fear Rhetoric and posturing are more important in this bill than common-sense and I worry that it will descend into a box-ticking piece of bureaucracy that will simply fail to help those we should be supporting. And those who know how to handle the system- not necessarily those we should be supporting- will have the means to steer through the hurdles miss Patel has erected. This is not compassion for the victim.

What is most worrying is that we look set to turn our back on legislation we helped to define- the UN Refugee Convention of 1951 talks about giving refuge to the needy and talks specifically of helping those with a “good cause”. This is quite a different matter to asking for migrants to be penalised for the route they took and I worry that it will get overlooked in the enthusasm for trimming back migration. This, in any case, is a paper tiger as we already take far fewer refugees than France and Germany.

Instead of thinking of ways to tie up applicants in endless red tape and leave them to the mercy of the authorities for years on end, we should be thinking of the contribution and committment that generations of refugees have already made to our country not least the the NHS and public transport, both still crying out for applicants- and not all of these former refugees are on the socialist left. We have a tradition of hospitality and a tradition of welcoming and embracing the needy traveller. This is not about discouraging greedy migrants, or those who come here to batten on our services. This is about our response to the genuinely desperate who will transform our society with their enthusiasm, passion and appreciation. Instead, we are potentially setting up a 5th column of trapped and failed asylum seekers who cannot be sent back to Europe because we quit the Dublin regulation when we effected Brexit. We will be in a stalemate with hundreds or more people trapped- because they cannot go back and take another route- what they did in the past, for whatever reason will have defined their present predicament.

“Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.”

These sorry people will eat up our resources- they themselves will be unable to work, but they will need to be constantly monitored and fed, they will need to draw on legal and social support which might otherwise be better servicing others. We will, in one stroke of Priti Patel’s poisoned pen, be creating a community of the dispossessed, despised and rejected whose numbers can only increase and who cannot go anywhere else. And, even if we can finally be rid of a handful of them, we will be sending back those few individuals who have learnt to hate us and to hate our unfair, selfish and egregiously dishonest system.

We can already see the fruits of this proposal in M Barnier’s comments today. We have dared to suggest the unspeakable and rip out the ethical bedrock that supports our society and literally repairs the world in Chasidic thought (תיקון עולם), the principle of hesed (חֶסֶד) or “loving kindness”, the principle that allows a person to speak and plead their case, however they came to be here. Suddenly, our unprincipled proposals make it reasonable for Euope to revise the very rule book that caused such a delay in Brexit, and to be done by the man responsible for that delay. I am flabberghasted, therefore, perhaps more by Barnier’s Chutzpah than by Priti Patel’s contempt for the history and for the traditions of hospitality that we have nursed as a civilized country for centuries.

Barnier started with the reasonable proposition that “There are links between immigration flows and terrorist networks which try to infiltrate them,” but he went on to parallel Patel and identify immigration as a “threat to French society”. His solution is not so different to Patel’s- his pause of 3-5 years simply makes the stranded and dispossessed wait on the french border. Patel at least locks them down in middle england. But it is essentially the same message and it is horrifying: whole communities in stagnation -waiting for help that may never come.

Barnier says, “We need to introduce a moratorium on immigration. We need to take time to evaluate, check and if necessary, change our immigration policies.” The language might to be one of caution while Patel’s is one of contempt but it is the same message.

The FT rightly judges Barnier’s rhetoric to be the sort of stuff that came too late- had he been saying this only a few years’ ago, Brexit may never have happened. It makes Britain’s decision to leave Europe look prescient at best.

But it is on the wrong side of history and the wrong side of civilization. We need to change the home office culture of mistrust or even distrust, of open hostility and of quotas. People are not figures in a spreadsheet. People are our potential and our hope for a better tomorrow. They must tell their own story and we must recognise that most stories do not have a neat beginning, middle and end. Most stories, bluntly, are not written for the Home office bureaucrats.

Cruel and Time-wasting

Both the positions adopted by Patel and by Barner are insensitive and possibly hypocritcal but most importantly, they are are cruel and timewasting-and I think the message of Patel’s law in the Queen’s speech is the harder of the two to swallow- for it has already set an example. Patel is the parent to Barnier’s child- her law is both timewasting and dishonest because she proposes something that can never work in practice; it is dishonest, moreover, because it ignores rules we helped to write and cruel because it ignores the circumstances of the individual and shows contempt for human dignity. Both will inevitably create a backlog of misery that future generations will have to sort out. We should not be leaving our children an asylum mess.



part A: A common Policy for Asylum

Today the EU has put forward plans for sharing asylum throughout Europe. This is a review of the Dublin convention of 1990, Eurodac and the Dublin regulation of 2003. Since 2009, there has been a uniform procedure throughout the EU for dealing with asylum requests. This grandly announced that it was having the last word on asylum policy- “les dernières briques de la protection internationale sont posées”, but clearly not! In practice, the 2009 directive means dealing with integration difficulties, clarifying the criteria for accepting an applicant (“membership of a social group” for instance, including gender) and establishing the rights to health-care and housing that are granted both to successful applicants and to those whose asylum status is not quite established but who have leave to remain in the host country.


The biggest issue specifically addressed on paper in 2009 was to ease the burden to the host state, but I am not sure that such  has actually been achieved. Greece, for instance, continues to struggle, as in the news daily, we see the struggles of the Italian islands. The statistics, however, hide the fact that there is a big difference between the numbers of those granted asylum and those in the country requesting asylum. In Greece, for example, 625 people were granted asylum in 2012 in contrast to 22,165 given asylum in Germany. But to get a better picture, just note that in Lesbos in just a few days in 2012, 4409 people attempted to enter the territory. Of those, 2,600 were arrested in Turkey. Until 2012, 90% of immigrants entered europe through Greece.  Thanos Maroukis estimated in 2012, that 390,000 people entered Greece. Of these, 625 were granted asylum. It puts the problem into perspective and it has only got worse since then.


Because of the ambiguity of the language, therefore, I am not really sure how, in practice, the new proposals will happen, though I have listened to what debate was available. Many asylum seekers find their appeals rejected. Some are genuinely bogus and some are unable to provide sufficient proof to make their case. Some simply have bad advice. At what point in the process, will they be dispersed? There is what the newspapers call a “surge of migration” across the mediterranean, which places even more pressure on Italy and Greece, two of the weaker Nations, to provide care under the original Asylum directives that a migrant should be processed in the first country he or she reaches in Europe. For all their belly-aching about migration, this means that very few migrants should genuinely have been treated by the UK because, logically, anyone making it to the UK must have passed through another member state in the process. A lack of proper documentation makes it harder to deport people because it is unclear where they first made land, though in 2008, the UNHCR asked the EU not to return Iraqi asylum seekers to Greece. Clearly, this Dublin regulation’s approach to “readmission” is unfair both to the migrants and to countries like Greece. Any new plans must be better.

immigration asylum 2

above frans timmmermans, below federica mogherini

immigration debate

The new plan is that a “mass influx” will trigger an emergency distribution system that will spread the load around the rest of Europe on a quota system basis. Again, it is not at all clear whether this will be administered by the country experiencing the “mass influx” and whether the quota distribution is of applicants on processed refugees. The new Government wants to help police the mediterranean and protect those caught up in trafficking, but it does not want to be part of the quota system.

Scotland welcomes Refugees

Humza Yousaf, however says very clearly that Scotland would welcome its share of a quota.

Theresa May & Opt Out

Theresa May however says, “We must — and will — resist calls for the mandatory relocation or resettlement of migrants across Europe.” Britain is not going to veto the proposal: it can’t. It is simply using its opt-out of something that is subject to a majority vote and likely to pass. Angela Merkel sounds more promising and she has already welcomed about 1/3 of all those seeking asylum, a total of 626,000 asylum applicants over 2014: “We and our European partners are fundamentally convinced that we must act urgently with regard to the dramatic refugee developments in the Mediterranean.” However, if the new proposals go ahead, she will be inevitably taking less asylum seekers and it is likely if the new proposals overturn Dublin 3, that Britain will no longer be able to send people back to their country of first entry. The fall out from this is that, ironically, the UK may end up accepting more immigrants than before and indeed offering greater help. Today, in fact the Royal Navy rescued 400 migrants.

Part B- refugees

There is a second part to this proposal which is a resettlement of refugees from camps outside the EU. This presumably includes people from countries like Turkey which has taken over 1.6 million Syrian refugees since the outbreak of the syrian crisis in 2011 and spent over £3 billion granting free healthcare to Syrian refugees. Some of these are in 22 government-run camps near the border but many are welcomed into the towns and cities. I remember getting my hair cut a few years’ ago in Istanbul and meeting a young lad who was sweeping the floor and was a Syrian refugee. He must have been about 12. There is a problem. Turkey does not give the Syrians official status as refugees, and instead calls them “guests”. This is both helpful in removing any stigma but it also means that there is less security and local people might begin to resent unregistered business ventures and competition. The impression given by recent Amnesty reports is that Turkey is reaching saturation-point and AFAD calls out for help. Meanwhile there are calls on the Turkish government to regularize Syrian workers so that they can pay proper tax.


Meanwhile, today (may 13th) is the anniversary of the birth of Vesta Tilly, the lady who first made famous the character of Burlington Bertie.